“What Writing Books Should I Read?”

31 Jan

I spoke with a writers group last week and, during the question-and-answer time, one of the participants asked for suggestions on books that might help her in her writing. I immediately thought of a few of my favorites ( Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King), but then gave the question a little more thought.

Which books would I recommend to those of you who have dreams of writing or who need resources on particular writing topics?

Which books would other writers recommend?

After posting the question on my Facebook page (“Writing with Cheryl”) and doing a little bit of research on popular writing books, I thought I’d provide you with a couple of lists of books that you might want to check out at the library or the bookstore (I’ve included the books’ links at Amazon or other site).

This first list includes books that focus on advice from writers in the form of essays and memoirs; I really enjoy this style of writing book, because it lets you in on the process from a successful writer’s experiences. (I will post a list on more practical, how-to writing guides later in the week).

Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life,  by Anne Lamott. (From the book: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'”)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King  (“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.)

Ernest Hemingway on Writing (“Throughout Hemingway’s career as a writer, he maintained that it was bad luck to talk about writing — that it takes off ‘whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.'” Despite this belief, by the end of his life he had done just what he intended not to do. In his novels and stories, in letters to editors, friends, fellow artists, and critics, in interviews and in commissioned articles on the subject, Hemingway wrote often about writing. And he wrote as well and as incisively about the subject as any writer who ever lived.)

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg (For more than twenty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice —”it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind.”)

Knit Together; Discover God’s Pattern for Your Life, by Debbie MacComber. (Fans will appreciate novelist Macomber’s lively, positive outlook and the behind-the-scenes look at her personal highs and lows. Macomber joyfully recounts the often arduous road to success, interspersing these difficulties with faith issues such as dreams, risks, success, balance, relationships, work, laughter, gratitude, blessing and worship. Within each chapter, she draws upon Psalm 139 and unequivocally assures readers that God has created every person with a worthy purpose, a dream to be followed and happily realized. Practical as well as inspirational, the guide debunks common misconceptions that hinder dream actualization.)

The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard. (Slender though it is, The Writing Life richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the writer. Even for Dillard, whose prose is so mellifluous as to seem effortless, the act of writing can seem a Sisyphean task: “When you write,” she says, “you lay out a line of words…. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow or this time next year.” Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously. “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…. Something more will arise for later, something better.”)

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeline L’Engle (For years, beloved author Madeline L’Engle has commingled her writing with her faith in such titles as A Wrinkle in Time. In Walking on Water, L’Engle takes a fresh look at what it means to be a Christian artist and what separates Christian art from that which is supposedly secular. This first-person account draws the reader into L’Engle’s mind frame and sphere of reference–uncloaking her frustrations with bad art (from poetry to painting) that claims to be religious–and explains how the true artist can only serve the world by imitating the ultimate Creator, the Lord Himself. When asked to describe where faith stops and art begins, L’Engle explains that there is no separating the two–“it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory.”)

Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You, by Ray Bradbury. (“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on  a land mine. The land mine is me. After the  explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the  pieces back together. Now, it’s your turn. Jump!”  Zest. Gusto. Curiosity. These are the qualities  every writer must have, as well as a spirit of  adventure. In this exuberant book, the incomparable  Ray Bradbury shares the wisdom, experience, and  excitement of a lifetime of writing. Here are  practical tips on the art of writing from a master of  the craft-everything from finding original ideas to  developing your own voice and style-as well as the  inside story of Bradbury’s own remarkable career  as a prolific author of novels, stories, poems,  films, and plays. Zen In The Art Of  Writing is more than just a how-to manual for the  would-be writer: it is a celebration of the act of  writing itself that will delight, impassion, and  inspire the writer in you. In it, Bradbury  encourages us to follow the unique path of our instincts  and enthusiasms to the place where our inner genius  dwells, and he shows that success as a writer  depends on how well you know one subject: your own  life.)

Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Display of Literary Lights, by John Winokur. (Here are literary lions on everything from the passive voice to promotion and publicity: James Baldwin on the practiced illusion of effortless prose, Isaac Asimov on the despotic tendencies of editors, John Cheever on the perils of drink, Ivan Turgenev on matrimony and the Muse. Here, too, are the secrets behind the sleight-of-hand practiced by artists from Aristotle to Rita Mae Brown. Sagacious, inspiring, and entertaining, Advice to Writers is an essential volume for the writer in every reader.)

I’d love to know what writing memoirs and guides you enjoy as well.


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